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The Sweetest Swing in Baseball
picture courtesy of gauk
3 (out of 5) stars
Royal Court, London
Thursday April 1, 2004
Emotional drive: Gillian Anderson as Dana. Photo: Tristram Kenton
It sounds like an evening for sports buffs. In fact Rebecca Gilman's latest
play, starring Gillian Anderson, is about how to survive the culture of envy.
And, while it displays Gilman's customary intelligence, it sometimes puts
point-making above dramatic tension.
Gilman's heroine, Dana, is a 38-year-old New York artist in a slough of
depression which intensifies when her latest exhibition bombs. After her attempted
suicide, we find her in a psychiatric hospital. Threatened with being thrown
back into the world when the insurance money runs out, she fakes multiple
personality disorder. On impulse she assumes the unlikely identity of a legendary
Afro-American baseball star, Darryl Strawberry, with an outcome that bears
Clearly, Gilman is writing more than a portrait of the artist as depressive.
She is tackling the commercialisation of everything, from art to baseball, in
which middlemen determine individual value. More urgently, it's about the
destructiveness of what an American sociologist called "the lonely crowd".
And, lest we miss the point, a psychotic fellow patient has an eloquent
speech about all the wannabes in society who praise success while eagerly relishing
All this is fascinating and palpably true: in all fields, from politics to
the arts, we build 'em up to knock 'em down.
While I endorse Gilman's argument, it seems a little too neat that, for
instance, the doctor in charge of Dana is a wouldbe dancer. When Dana herself
advises her pyschotic chum on the importance of "negative space" in design, you
know that's going to be a key metaphor.
And, though John Sharian is wonderful as a patient, he's so damn shrewd you
feel he should be running the joint.
What gives Ian Rickson's production its emotional drive, though, is
Anderson's astonishing performance. She starts out looking strained but seems
transformed by assuming another identity. You see her becoming more resilient, wary and
determined by the minute as she realises that the only way to survive in
America is to create a protective other self; and, while the argument is Gilman's,
it is Anderson who gives it memorable flesh.